Participants in the 'Between Ideal & Reality’
Participants in the 'Between Ideal & Reality’, Reassessing Cistercian Architecture conference

A conference 'Between Ideal and Reality: Reassessing Cistercian Art and Architecture’ was held on the 14th and 15th May 2004 at the Courtauld Institute. The event was organised by Prof Paul Crossley from the Courtauld Institute and by Dr Alexandra Gajewski to celebrate the contribution of Peter Fergusson to the study of Cistercian art and architecture and to mark his retirement from Wellesley College, USA. Peter Fergusson and his wife attended the conference, which was hosted and introduced by Paul Crossley and Caroline Bruzelius. Scholars from England, Belgium, France and the United States were to engage in a debate which has been central to Cistercian studies since the 1970s. The subjects of the papers ranged from archaeology and architecture to manuscript illumination, and included history, liturgy and the practicalities of monastic life. Many different issues were explored by the speakers. Among them, the importance of patronage (Lindy Grant, Jackie Hall) and the difficulty of life in remote places, such as Wales (David Robinson), illustrating the reality of medieval monastic life. The ideal of austerity was shown to have influenced Cistercian architecture as late as the fourteenth-century (Christopher Wilson). The problem of defining austerity was highlighted in relation to manuscript decoration (Kathleen Doyle), and a study of the historiography of Cistercian architecture demonstrated twentieth-century attitudes to the idea of a Cistercian ideal (Thomas Coomans). Each paper gave rise to lively discussions, particularly at the reception held in the lobby of the Courtauld Institute. Finally, a general debate at the end of the second day raised if not a consensus, the scholarly debate to a new level. The conference concluded with a tribute paid by Peter Draper to the achievements of Peter Fergusson, which had stimulated so many of the debates.

Dr. Alexandra Gajewski